(Brassica napobrassica )
There is something about a wrong name that invites a second look. It might be a simple typographic error like the one that hit CNN recently. (Wolf Blitzer stood in front of a larger-than-life portrait of Osama Bin Ladin while an urgently colored message crawled across the screen reading “Where is Obama Now?”) Or it could be one of those more-sad-than-cute kiddy names that suggest the parents can only spell phonetically. Then there are those wrong names that are factual errors. Examples include “democratic elections”, “jumbo shrimp” and “Gilfeather Turnip.” It does make one think “What’s it all coming to?” when someone names a rutabaga after himself and calls it a turnip.
The late John Gilfeather of Wardsboro, Vermont is described as a “lanky bachelor of few words.” Mr. Gilfeather gained local fame in the early 1900’s for growing turnips and in particular a unique variety of uncommon tenderness and sweetness. Gillfeather’s turnips are robust but slow growers and unlike other ‘turnips’ their white flesh remains tender in even the largest specimen. Many note that early Vermont frosts only increase their mild, sweet taste.
Gilfeather never offered a biography of his creation but, of course, he was a Vermonter and thus taciturn by nature. Some non-Vermont people (“tourists” is the subtle pejorative used in Vermont) have noted its resemblance to German varieties but no one has produced a twin to prove the point.
Gilfeather lore suggests that Gilfeather had insights beyond those of most farmers. He understood the necessity of protecting his market and he allegedly trimmed the tops and roots from the ‘turnips’ he sold to prevent propagation of the Gilfeather type. Near the time of his death Gilfefather’s precautions were apparently breeched by unidentified neighbors and his namesake continues to be grown and some seed is available on a small scale.
The most curious root of the Gilfeather story remains unexplored. How it is that he called a rutabaga a turnip is unclear. Botanically rutabagas and turnips might be called cousins and in some varieties and names get a bit blurred. But this is one rutabaga that looks like a turnip about as much as a Vermont barn looks like a Manhattan skyscraper. Perhaps John Gilfeather had a streak of that high Vermont humor.
The Gilfeather Turnip has recently been honored as an addition to Slow Food’s Ark of Taste.
These Gilfeather Turnips were organically grown in my garden in the Valley of the Moon.
Seed Source: Fedco Seeds, Vermont